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What Does it Take to be a Mentor? Willingness and Compassion.

by Grace Lee   •  

As I started Claremont McKenna College in Southern California as a freshman last fall, I was looking for ways to get involved with the community both on and off campus. Because education has always been my passion, I decided to visit a nearby high school to help seniors on their college application essays.

I approached a girl called Marlen. She had a bright personality and a big smile on her face. I would have never guessed her story from just looking at her. Talking with Marlen about her family and her childhood, I got to know her on a personal level, and our relationship took off.  

Marlen grew up in South Central Los Angeles, which has neighborhoods where as few as 3 percent of residents graduate from college. Drive-by shootings, drug dealers and gangs are common. Her father was addicted to drugs, leaving her family broke. At times they had no money for food or for paying their gas and electricity bills. He eventually passed away from AIDS. Marlen will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and, if she is accepted, to attend college. I have faith that she will be.

Our relationship blossomed naturally. I kept in touch with Marlen through phone and email, and saw her on Saturdays at the high school. I wanted to not only edit her essays and give her advice on scholarships, but also support her emotionally through the college application process.

Though Marlen has made it to her senior year in high school and is now waiting to hear from colleges, there are countless young people just like her who lack the support they need to help them focus on working hard and dreaming bigger. As I know from personal experience, mentoring can change lives and dramatically shift the future path of at-risk youth.

Mentoring is an extremely rewarding experience, especially for the mentor. I have realized the importance of persistence, perseverance and bravery through my mentee. I have also gained an increased awareness of the communities around me and a stronger sense of calling to public service.

If all children and young people who are growing up in difficult situations had mentors who believed in them and served as role models, I believe so many more of America’s youth would grow up to be our great leaders of tomorrow. I want to encourage you, whether you are a college student or a full-time working adult, to mentor a young person. All that is needed is willingness to invest time and compassion.

Grace Lee is an 18-year-old sophomore at Claremont McKenna College and is passionate about expanding opportunity, especially for education.

Grace Lee

Opportunity Leader

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